The Long View: The patriot

The Long View
The patriot
By Manuel L. Quezon III
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 04:27:00 09/17/2009

Just as former Senate President Pro Tempore Sotero H. Laurel’s life spanned 90 years, so did the participation of the Laurels in our nation’s political life span about 90 years: from the time Sotero Laurel y Remoquillo joined the Revolution and became undersecretary of the interior and then delegate to the Malolos Congress to his grandson and namesake Sotero H. Laurel’s service in the Senate – the last of his family to be elected to national office. In a sense, Senator Laurel completed the work his grandfather had begun in the First Republic, and that his father exemplified as one of the few statesmen to distinguish himself in all three branches of our government from the Jones Law era to the Third Republic – a secular, independent, and democratic republic.

There are virtues in public life so increasingly rare they are considered old-fashioned, archaic, obsolete, irrelevant. Yet they are virtues that are in truth timeless. Caught by the outbreak of the war in the United States, Sotero Laurel became the secretary of Vice President Sergio Osmena in the wartime government-in-exile. As his father increasingly played a prominent role in the government established back home by the Japanese, Laurel did the honorable thing: on Sept. 27, he offered his resignation to President Manuel L. Quezon.

His resignation was declined on two grounds: first, the real question, as Quezon wrote to Laurel on Sept. 30, 1943 was whether Laurel remained firm in his allegiance to the Commonwealth; and second, Quezon did not believe Laurel’s father was a traitor. “I believe,” his letter to Sotero Laurel went, “he is doing what he honestly believes is in the best interest of the Filipino people for the time being, and not because he has become a tool of the Japanese.”

Sotero Laurel had had to scratch out a living as a taxi driver although he could have clung to the security of a government job. The lesson here is that regimes may come and go, but a public servant will not serve if his integrity is in doubt.

Sotero Laurel had studied in the United States, but like his father, he maintained a clear bias, always, for his country. When he cast his vote against a 10-year extension to the RP-US Bases Treaty, he not only helped make history, he rectified it. By achieving what, for some, marked the true Independence Day of our nation, he helped close at long last the era of a permanent foreign military presence in our country.

It was because of the intrusion of foreign powers that we will never know what could have been in terms of our First Republic. It was because of the collision of foreign powers that what would have otherwise been a firm, stable foundation for the independence his father helped negotiate was shattered because of World War II. It was because of foreign powers that democracy gave way to dictatorship and lasted as long as it did.

Sotero Laurel therefore cast a positive vote for national sovereignty, for the same reasons his ancestors had pursued independence in war and peace: sink or swim, the country had to pursue its own destiny. For the same reason, he adhered to that other defining cause of his ancestors: a nation that would be secular in orientation.

As reported by the Manila Standard on June 8, 1989, as senator, Laurel opposed a bill by Sen. Edgardo Angara, which proposed a government subsidy for private educational institutions. The Lyceum of the Philippines would have been among the beneficiaries of the bill. Laurel pointed out that the bill would cover religious schools and violate a constitutional prohibition on granting direct or indirect subsidies to sectarian or religious organizations, including schools. He brought up the point that a subsidy would be like using public money to purchase religious textbooks and would thus violate the separation of church and state.

Angara pointed to a Supreme Court decision penned by Laurel’s father (Aglipay vs. Ruiz) which argued that if the benefit to a religious group was only incidental to the primary objectives of government, there was nothing unconstitutional about it. Laurel replied, in turn, that his father had been writing about the government issuing a postage stamp to commemorate a Catholic event and was definitely not even a grant of public funds or state property to a particular sect. Laurel voted against the bill.

He was not volcanic like his brother the speaker Jose, or garrulous like his other brother, the vice president Salvador, or a diplomat, banker, or sportsman like his other siblings. He exemplified the contributions a scholar can make to our political life: not only that there is a place in electoral politics for the scholarly-inclined, but how his knowledge informed public debate, as well as providing the bedrock of principles that made it essentially effortless for him to avoid conflicts of interest and make his contributions part of a piece: the adding-on to the campaign for independence that never truly ends, but which can be helped along, or hindered, by each generation as it enters public life in turn.

Jovito Salonga, his law partner, and Isagani Cruz, his lifelong friend, will surely speak of the deep respect and affection they felt for Sotero H. Laurel. Theirs were ties that transcended political affiliations, bound by a common love for country, books, and the law.

For those not of their generation, the deep respect and admiration for Laurel must necessarily come from a distance. But it is there, and ultimately serves to keep the bar of expectations for public service, particularly in deliberative bodies like the House of Representatives and the Senate, high, as it should always be.

His true monument is the most fitting kind: a library named after him in the Lyceum, to which he devoted so many productive years of an honest, patriotic life.

Manuel L. Quezon III.

18 thoughts on “The Long View: The patriot

  1. “It was because of the intrusion of foreign powers that we will never know what could have been in terms of our First Republic.” – MLQ3
    A few things the First Republic did (You will have to correct me if I get the details wrong, Manolo):

    1. Declared that friar lands be distributed to the tillers,
    2. Adopted the parliamentary form of govt, a la Spanish Cortes,
    3. Set up the Philippine Independent Church as the state religion similar to the Anglican Church (of England).

    The Americans instead bought the friar lands from the Vatican and resold them to the local caciques, reversing number 1.

    They then set up a representative government patterned after the US Congress under the Commonwealth (wherein the local caciques gained a taste of national prominence), reversing number 2.

    The 1935 Constitution had separation of Church and State and freedom of religion, reversing number 3.

    Many here have commented about the backward nature of our agricultural sector where about 2/3 of the labour force is but accounts for about 1/3 of our GDP. This could have been eliminated by number 1.

    With respect to the problem of corruption and political instability. Having a parliamentary democracy along the lines of the British model might have led to a stronger bureaucracy viz. the executive.

    The problem of the Catholic Church interfering in the population debate could have been avoided if the Aglipayan Church became the state religion. The Anglican Church, which is affiliated with the Aglipayan Church, had reversed its teachings on contraception nearly a century ago.

    Who knows what might have been, indeed …

  2. i’d dispute all three. a more accurate anology might be the manner in which henry viii and his nobles dispossessed the catholic church. while peasant and ilustrado and cacique alike were all united by hostility to the church, subdividing estates would have destabilized a social system hardly anyone in the leadership of the first republic would have tolerated (mabini being the lone and losing exception perhaps) -the collectivist approach to things having been settled in the populist vs. principalia showdown in 1897 between bonifacio and aguinaldo. the american policy in theory actually might have achieved a more widespread redistribution of land except those with capital to purchase were the landowners themselves. any confiscation under the first republic would have gone straight to the landowners supporting the revolution.

    the malolos congress if you go through its roster of members was ilustrado-principalia; they would have dominated the first republic and they would have opposed the educated provincial non-principalia that emerged in the first decade of the 20th century; in fact that was the first showdown in the first philippine assembly when the veterans of malolos lost out to young upstarts like osmena, etc.

    the question of what sort of state support there’d have been for (again, a british-style) native catholic church, is something i can’t answer though there’s achutegui’s mutli-volume study of the thing; whether aglipay as vicar-general of the first republic would have become a kind of archbishop of canterbury, i don’t know; that was probably the objective. but recall the separation of church and state passed by one vote at malolos which would have eventually represented a challenge to any effort to build up a state church; and questions over church property would have fueled the tension since churches and conventos were often classified as municipal property, etc.

    as it was we had a semiparliamentary model until the issue was settled in 1922 (could legislators sit in the cabinet? should the speaker act as a pm? should the senate be subordinate to the house even if it had, at the time, the exclusive power of confirmation? etc.) and in the formulation of the 1935 constitution. i wonder if the one-party states in malaysia and singapore, since all our regional developments converge in the extended period of one party rule under the party that negotiated independence (india, asean, etc.) indicate a similar experience: not independence of the bureaucracy, but the melding of elected and bureaucratic officials in what the indians call the “license raj.”

    the american point of view is here:

  3. I got number 1 from Hayami, Quisumbing, and Adriano (1990):

    “The first step taken under the American colonial regime was the expropriation of friar lands. The friar estates had been confiscated and distributed among the peasants by the independent government at Malolos during the Philippine Revolution. But the Treaty of Paris (1898)…bound the United States to protect the property rights of the monastic orders.”

    If the Americans had established a bureaucracy first prior to a parliament (responsible govt before representative govt), might we have evolved the way Japan did into a patrimonial bureaucracy as opposed to a patrimonial oligarchy, do you think?

    Manolo, your grandfather proclaimed that he’d rather have a country run like hell by Filipinos than like heaven by Americans. Our present situation is testing the very limits of that assertion wouldn’t you agree?

  4. Very interesting read from your link to an address by W. H. Taft:

    “After the Revolution of 1896, the popular feeling against the friars made the collection of rents from their tenants impossible.

    The Insurgent Congress at Malolos, under Aguinaldo, passed acts confiscating to the Filipino Republic all the lands of the friars in the islands; and many of the tenants based their refusal to pay rents to the friars’ agents on the ground of this “nationalizing” of the lands, as it was called.”

  5. cusp, the americans did establish a bureaucracy first, and controlled the executive, remember, until 1935. as for the famous saing, let me refer you to previous pieces on the full context of that saying:


  6. I don’t know if you remember it, but your visit to the Lyceum with Chiz Escudero a couple of years led me to this blog, and inspired me to blog as well.

  7. Manolo, there was an election for the lower house held in 1907 and elections for the upper house took place in 1916 wasn’t there? The executive was elected as you say in 1935.

    My point being that the prominence of the bureaucracy over economic affairs was not allowed to take root long enough. In the early years, the upper echelons of administration were also populated by Americans. As the influence of the landed elites grew with their election into the national chambers, they then populated the bureaucracy (at the national level) with their surrogates. A meritocracy was never allowed to take root, unfortunately.

    This is the essence of the ‘weak state’ argument that was based on 400 years of Spanish tutelage. Not even 40 years of American nation-building could stamp it out as argued by Robert H Nelson contained in this by UP School of Economics Discussion Paper:

  8. you’d have to engage in a tremendous amount of data compilation to even define what “surrogates” means, considering that the whole idea of a middle class came to be during the period you mention, and that those tensions kept playing out -the middle and upper classes being culturally attuend to each other but politically not always and quite often at odds- over time. you have to consider for example the united states itself and whether there was anything approaching meritocracy in its civil service at the time. the fights for civil service reform were taking place almost contemporaneously with the establishment of the civil service here, but whether the officials here were aware of the efforts or shared the ideas of the reformers in america is doubtful, tinged as their very presence was, with racism.

  9. I was basing it (the unqualified nature of most appointments made by Filipino provincial padrinos of their surrogates) on the personal reflections of W. H. Taft that I read somewhere, but can’t locate at the moment…

  10. cusp, that’s like the american health officials who used the global flu pandemic to argue filipinos weren’t qualified for independence because the mortality statistics increased with greater autonomy -ignoring the pandemic’s effect on those mortality rates.

  11. The idea is generally attributed to John T Sidel of LSE, but I guess you raise a very important point that the US tutelage in democracy took place at a time when bureaucratic corruption and robber barrons was prevalent in the US (prior to the Great Depression at least).

    We Filipinos often think of the present American governance system as the one we inherited. In fact, many of our govt agencies still echo the sort of New Deal type ventures that later became prevalent in the US. No wonder why many of us still expect the govt, i.e. the President, to fix all our social ills.

  12. When the Americans came to our islands, American Imperialism was making its first giant strides throughout the world.

    William McKinley, president when the Americans took over the Philippines, was the prototypical Imperialist.

    Then there was Teddy Roosevelt, who was famous for his “speak softly and carry a big stick” comment and sent out “the Great White Fleet” to display American power. Roosevelt was a strong, yet complex leader. He was progressive and populist, introducing the phrase “Square Deal”, which another Roosevelt would coin into the “New Deal”. Roosevelt fancied himself as a “trustbuster”, disliked monopolies and favored strict government regulations that would stress equal opportunity for all.

    However, Teddy Roosevelt was also a racist. Roosevelt stressed the struggle between “civilization” (referring to whites) and the savagery of people of “color”. He was quoted saying such racial gems as:
    “The most ultimately righteous of all wars is a war with savages.”
    “The world would have halted had it not been for the Teutonic conquests in alien lands; but the victories of Moslem over Christian have always proved a curse in the end. Nothing but sheer evil has come from the victories of Turk and Tartar.”

    Surprisingly, Teddy wasn’t considered racist in his time. He claimed to favor racial equality, but it should come through progress, step by step, through one generation to another. Was this patronizing attitude applied to Filipinos, as well? The fact that they saw us as the “little brown brothers”, attests to that.

    Not surprisingly, Rudyard Kipling published his imperialist anthem, “White Man’s Burden”, in 1899 in McClure’s magazine, with the subtitle: “The United States and the Philippine Islands”.

  13. “No wonder why many of us still expect the govt, i.e. the President, to fix all our social ills.” The Cusp

    – You’re absolutely right, we do. Why not? She was responsible for most of our social ills, wasn’t she? Therefore, we think that another President can mend it. A mistake! Our government structure is geared towards only one direction: down. We must change it, not just the leaders.

    History is fraught with lessons. Whether we learn is another story.

  14. Taxj, the problem with many of our rulers is that they feel as though they have a “divine right” to rule. And so they think they can do as they please while in office. Just like the kings of medieval Europe who would raise taxes to fund wars so that they could collect their tribute from a wider base.

    Similar to the way our govt officials declare a “war on hunger” or a “war on poverty” or a “war against terror” and then proceed to milk the funds allocated for personal or political profit.

    In 17th C England, Parliament found a way to force the King to seek their approval to declare war and to raise taxes. The Glorious Revolution was a lesson to future kings of the consequences if they reneged on this promise.

    In our case, it is the “parliament of the streets” coupled with the military and the church that performs an ultimate check on executive excess and corruption. There are limits to this though, and I think we are realising that now. Hopefully we can learn from past events and give our institutions some “space” to mature.

  15. “. . . the problem with many of our rulers is that they feel as though they have a “divine right” to rule.”


    Yes, and our elite feel that they are entitled to most, if not all, material opportunities. That is why the middle class has left, and continues to leave, our country. They find more opportunities in distant shores.

    Swapang kasi ang mga negosyante at ang mga opisyal ng gobyerno natin. Add this attitude of exclusivity to our innate clannishness, and we come up with an almost incestuous relationship between business and government, the spoils of which are mostly divided among the ruling class. The rest only get the crumbs. It seems that trickle down is systemically incorporated in our system.

  16. We seem to have a kind of concensus on what ails the country. People empowerment or participatory democracy is often suggested as a solution yet we find it difficult to agree on how this can be institutionalized. Gibo mentions a change in structure which would require a cha-cha.

    Jose V. Abueva wants federalism which shall start by strenghtening local governments allowed by the present Charter. I would go with him as far as his Part 1 goes, but not beyond. Strong longer governments is what we need. Going federal would spoil it.

    The general idea is not just to make the Presidency less relevant in our lives. It is more about tapping more hands and heads for a common task. This is a must. The alternative is our continuing plunge into the abyss of want and misery because we cannot and should not rely on a few good men to lift us up.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.